TWH: Did the Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that is–get Judas all wrong or even mostly wrong? Did the authors of those Gospels really just sit down and warp the image of an innocent man in order to explain how this man who proclaimed to be the Messiah ended up hanging from a cross? Did the authors of those Gospels commit the most profane act of slander that the world has ever seen? The answer you get will no doubt depend on who you ask. Part of the problem is people view the canonical Gospels as propaganda and mechanisms for promulgating one's theology or the theology of a community. And part of the problem is people look at the material that appears in Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John and they assume that they must present different information about the man. In other words, they present the evidence as if there is absolutely no other way for understanding the material than to think the authors are saying something totally different than one of the other authors. But could there be another way . . . an easier way to understand the material that is recorded in the canonical Gospels? I think so.
Let's think about the progression of the Judas account in light of the composition of the Gospels. So in the present day, most scholars argue that Mark wrote first (using oral tradition or some written document commonly referred to as the Q source), then Matthew wrote, then Luke, and then John way later. If we follow this composition order, does it make sense how the Judas accounts would develop?
Mark (via Peter) says that Judas ran off to the chief priests to betray Jesus in exchange for money (Mark 14:10-11). This took place two days before Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples (cf. Mark 14:12). Mark tells us that Judas was among the twelve that observed the Passover with Jesus and that Jesus identifies one of those twelve as the betrayer (Mark 14:17-18). Mark describes Judas as coming to Jesus and "a crowd armed with swords and clubs" that were sent "from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" (Mark 14:43). By the way, the names of the apostles in the Synoptic Gospels each mention Judas. In each account he is mentioned last and he is identified as the betrayer (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). The Gospels are very much in line about who Judas was and his role in the crucifixion of Jesus. There is not much that anyone can identify as warping when it comes to the person and identity of Judas. So what are we supposed to do with the material like Antonio points out in the Gospel of John, where Judas is identified as the chief murmurer against the anointing of Jesus (John 12:4-5)? Is that really a manipulation of the evidence, an attempt to tag Judas as someone who he was really not? Does John really say something that would have caused Matthew to cock his head sideways in surprise because Judas had not actually done what John said? I don't think so. I think it seems more reasonable to say that John fills in a gap in the story. Whereas Matthew does not want to make a point about who was upset about the anointing of Jesus, John views it as an important detail and focuses on Judas shock at what was taking place. The Judas accounts in John should be viewed like the other accounts in the Gospel of John, not so much as a rewriting of what happened, but a filling in of details not captured in the Synoptic Gospels.
And let's visit the issue of who handed Jesus over for a second. When we look at the New Testament, we find a number of references to Jesus being handed over for crucifixion. The following was spoken by Peter and recorded by Mark (14:10-11):
"Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went running to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. They were thrilled when they heard [what Judas wanted to do], and they promised to give him money [for it]. So Judas began trying to figure out how to betray him at an opportune time."It seems pretty clear in that verse who was responsible for Jesus going to the cross, right? And then we read Rom. 8:31-32 and Acts 2:23. In the former Paul says that God "did not spare his own Son, but delivered him over for us all." In the latter, Luke records Peter as saying that Jesus was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." And if that didn't make things complicated enough, Paul writes in Galatians that Jesus "handed himself over" (2:20).
This might seem like conflicting data, but it really isn't. Can't someone hand themselves over and yet circumstances unfold that involve other individuals? I think so. And both Peter's and Paul's view of Jesus acknowledge that there was something bigger going on in the crucifixion than just a crucifixion. The divine plan of a redeemer had been announced beforehand through the prophets and in the Scriptures. This was planned beforehand by God, and Jesus willingly submitted to his role in this plan, which meant he would have to hand himself over (i.e., allow himself to be arrested, mocked, beaten, crucified, etc.). Judas role is an important one, but the crucifixion is hardly to be placed entirely on his shoulders. For the apostles and the early church, the betrayal of the Savior was a heinous act. For Judas to turn Jesus over, he had to reject every teaching from the Messiah's mouth, every healing performed by Jesus, and violate every characteristic of basic human relationships. He made a decision that is terrible and he did so for very little gain.